A week from today, I’ll be flying back to the states after nearly ten months here in Kibuye. In honor of those ten months, I’d love to share ten things I know I’ll miss about Burundi:
1. The night sky. Besides charcoal fires, the mountain air in Kibuye is the cleanest I’ll probably ever breathe. The pure atmosphere and the lack of electricity mean that nights are heart-stoppingly beautiful. During a new moon, the stars burn in a multi-colored display of inconceivable distances. You can even see another galaxy with your naked eye if you know where to look.
2. The weather. Crisp and chilly in the mornings, hot but breezy in the afternoons, and almost never humid, thanks to our 6,000 ft elevation. Windows are always open and there’s no need to heat or air conditioning. It’s lovely. Rainy season and dry season each have their own particular beauties.
3. Community living. The kind where you’re close enough that if you get horribly ill, your neighbors will probably know it before you even tell them and will ask if you need anything.
4. “Miss Audrey, watch this!” “Miss Audrey! Come tell us a story!” “Miss Audrey, wanna play capture the flag?” “Miss Audrey, come see my guinea pig!” “Miss Audrey, come sit in this hammock!” I love all the kids on the compound and how they clamor for attention even if I just walk past them on my way to the hospital.
5. Hearing choir practice from all the churches dotted around the valleys. The choruses echo through the mountains like birdsong every Wednesday and Saturday in addition to Sundays.
6. Fresh avocados and pineapples and oranges and lemons and passion fruits from the market each week. The avocados here are enormous, at least four times the size of American avocados, and incredibly cheap. I’m typing this while eating some freshly made guacamole I quickly whipped up in my kitchen. Mmmm.
7. Hikes up to Kibuye Rock, or the Far Kibuye Rock, or on the big 8-mile loop past the cell towers across the valley. (We’ve only got a few big landmarks.)
8. Jeannine, my French language tutor, who is quiet but loves to laugh. She is so patient with me and I’ve loved learning new aspects of Burundian culture as we talk about food and education and work and family life. It’s also fun when she asks me questions about American culture (“How do American parents talk to their children about relationships and dating?”), which forces me to think about my own culture in a new way as I try to explain it—especially when I have to stumble around with broken French!
9. Seeing kids’ faces light up when they discover a new fun science fact or when we get to do an experiment. I’ll miss the way they all wanted to race me to the school when the bell rang and took pride in being THE VERY FIRST person in their seat for science class. I’ll miss the chorus of “Awwwwwww but that’s a cliffhanger!!” when we had to stop a read-aloud book in the middle of the chapter at the end of class.
10. Learning from the dedicated doctors here, both the Americans and their Burundian colleagues and students. The doctors here are great teachers and I’ve been able to absorb much more than most pre-medical students ever get the chance to observe! But I haven’t only learned about diagnosing sickle cell anemia or performing a c-section or interpreting ultrasounds. Beyond the medical, I’ve learned a lot about compassion and perseverance.
The doctors here persevere even when they have to use headlamps for surgeries because the electricity keeps cutting out, and even when there’s no running water and the wards are hot and crowded and smelly, and even when they have 95 inpatients on their service (for something like 40 beds), and even when malaria medicine runs out. I’ve seen amazing abilities to keep a sense of humor and to creatively solve problems. I’ve seen rejoicing when a patient on the brink of death returns to health and grief when children die because they dared to be sick in the third-poorest country in the world. I’ve seen how medicine needs the soul and body of the doctor as well as the patient.